Friday 20 June 2014

Supporting stewards working with stress

Conference backed a South Lanarkshire call for research into the impact on the well-being of stewards given the demands placed on them, with a view to putting in place support mechanisms for stewards and members. #uNDC14

The branch's Margaret Gallacher told delegates that stress is the most common cause of long term absence and there is a proven link between lack of job security and poor mental health.

"In every branch across the country, UNISON stewards are dealing with members' problems while we juggle our own workload, personal issues and work/life balance", said Margaret.

"We union stewards rarely meet members when they are having a good day. People don't phone to tell us they're having a good day at work. They contact us when they're being disciplined, facing dismissal, redundancy or reorganisation, overworked, bullied, in debt, suffering from illness or trying to cope with psychological health issues."

Margaret continued: "It might be terrifying standing up here to make a speech at Conference but it's not a terrifying as when a member tells you his family would be better off if he was dead..."

Who supports the union rep in these circumstances? Margaret congratulated her branch for giving her access to suicide awareness training and she now knows where to refer people.

She called on the union to " take positive steps to protect the mental health of our activists."

Margaret was backed by Brenda Aitchison from Renfrewshire who described how political and resource decisions affect people on the front line, often dealing with mental health issues, from housing officers to social workers and librarians.

"Politicians making bad choices... that affect our stewards, our members. Let's forget about them for a moment and concentrate on us and look after and support our stewards - our people helping the people", she said.

An amendment from Islington asks the union to look into providing a counselling service.

In a moving and poignant moment, Conference rose in standing ovation to a delegate's account of a suicide and her pledge to speak up for that person at UNISON's conference.

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